We’re only three games into the first round series between the Thunder and Mavericks, and it appears the matchup may be the most entertaining series of the NBA postseason. After mixing in the “Dance Battle” storyline between Russell Westbrook and Charlie Villanueva with the exciting ending to Game 2, there was little surprise that OKC dominated on Thursday night. OKC took a 2-1 series lead after a 131-102 win in game 3—which marks the third worst playoff loss in Mavericks’ postseason history.
Now the two teams will square off in an important Game 4 on Saturday night at 7 p.m. Here’s what you need to know going into the game:
Carlisle critical of OKC’s physical play
There definitely wasn’t a lack of physicality in OKC’s dominating Game 3 win, and the amount of intensity being displayed by both teams almost made one forget the lopsided scoring numbers. When all-world athletes are in the heat of battle in a playoff series, it’s not surprising to see guys get sick of squaring off with each other night after night.
Thursday’s game featured a skirmish between Raymond Felton and Steven Adams, along with a disgruntled Dirk Nowitzki after Andre Roberson steam rolled the future Hall of Famer while trying to fight through a screen. There was also an instance in the third quarter when Mavs’ center Salah Mejri emphatically flailed to the ground after absorbing an elbow while Kevin Durant was trying to box out on a free throw.
Mavericks’ head coach Rick Carlisle had a night to process the loss and watch film, and while talking with reporters in Dallas on Friday, Carlisle didn’t shy away from pointing the finger at OKC, and Durant in particular.
"There were four what I would categorize as non-basketball physical escalations that were initiated by them, including one intentional, unprovoked elbow at the free throw line which I didn't understand," Carlisle said. "And I've never seen a guy like Kevin Durant ever do that to a player. Then ultimately, that led to two more escalations between the team, the fact that that was missed. I'm concerned about that. There's no place for that in our game."
Carlisle clearly upset with physical play from OKC last night, didn't like the Durant elbow at free throw line. #News9Thunder— Steve McGehee (@SteveMcGehee) April 22, 2016
Carlisle clearly upset with physical play from OKC last night, didn't like the Durant elbow at free throw line. #News9Thunder
Now that the league’s now fully aware of how Carlisle feels about the physicality, look for the referees to monitor the game even tighter than they had been throughout the start of the series.
Will the “money ball” keep falling?
Seeing the Thunder have a significant talent advantage in this series, it probably wasn’t too encouraging for the Mavericks to see the Thunder score 131 points and drain a franchise postseason record 15 three-pointers in the Game 3. Not only were the perimeter shots falling for the Thunder, but they were doing so at a 55.6 percent clip while converting 57.7 percent of all field goal attempts.
It helps that Durant made three shots from behind the arc, while every Thunder player who attempted at least one three-pointer, made at least one three-pointer. Dion Waiters (4-8), Russell Westbrook (2-3), Serge Ibaka (2-2), Andre Roberson (1-1), Enes Kanter (1-1), Josh Huestis (1-1) and Randy Foye (1-2) all got in on the fun.
While everything it was “raining” for the Thunder, it must have been hailing for the Mavs. Dallas shot 26.1 percent (6-23) from deep while Nowitzki failed to connect from behind the arc. If the Mavericks hope to keep up with OKC’s potent scoring punch, Dallas must find its touch from outside.
Along with the stellar showing from the three-point line, it was also encouraging to see just how good the Thunder can be when both Enes Kanter and Dion Waiter form a dominant duo off the OKC bench. Kanter finished with 21 points and eight rebounds in Game 3, while Dion Waiters scored 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting.
OKC will need its bench to keep producing if the Thunder are going to make a long playoff run, so it’s encouraging that both Kanter and Waiters aren’t crumbling under the pressure while playing in the first postseasons of their careers.